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MLS playoff picture: Inter Miami charging, FC Cincinnati leads

MLS has entered the final stretch of the regular season, and there are plenty of big storylines to follow as the playoffs get closer.

This year's MLS Cup Playoffs will be played under a new format, and some teams have as many as eight games remaining before the postseason begins.

There will be 18 teams that qualify for this year's MLS playoffs, with the top nine from the Eastern Conference and the top nine from the Western Conference.

Those teams seeded one to seven in each conference automatically qualify for the Round One Best-of-3 series, while those seeded eight to nine will secure their spot in the Wild Card matches.

Wild Card matches will occur on October 25 and 26, while the Round One Best-of-3 series games are pencilled to start on October 28 and run to November 12. 

The Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals - single elimination matches - are set to take place between November 25 to December 3, while the MLS Cup finale is scheduled for December 9.

We take a look at the biggest storylines around the league about two weeks before the regular seasons ends.

WhatUSA MLS 2023
WhereUSA & Canada
WhenSaturday February 25 - Saturday October 21 (regular season) & Wednesday October 25 - Saturday December 9 (play-offs)
How to watchApple TV & FOX
OddsFC Cincinnati +400, Inter Miami CF +600, Los Angeles FC +700, Philadelphia Union +900, St. Louis City SC +1100, New England Revolution +1100

FC Cincinnati set the standard

FC Cincinnati secured the first spot in the MLS Cup playoffs thanks to their stunning campaign under head coach Pat Noonan. The Orange and Blue's berth was secured at the end of August, and they have won 17 of their 27 matches so far this season.

Noonan's outfit have been at the top of the Supports' Shield for some time, and they are chasing the single-season points record, which was set in 2021 by New England Revolution.

They will now compete in the playoffs for the second year running, and they are due to play the winner of eighth versus ninth, which, as it stands, would be CF Montreal or D.C. United.

FC Cincinnati are as short as -2500 to finish on top of the Eastern Conference and they are +400 to go all the way and lift the MLS Cup.

Inter Miami on the charge thanks to Messi

Inter Miami looked down and out a few months ago, but the arrival of Messi has galvanized the team to another level.

In the 11 games he has played for his new team, the former Barcelona ace has yet to lose, but he will need to maintain those standards if his side are to reach the playoffs.

Gerardo Martino was without Messi for the recent 3-2 success over Sporting Kansas City and he could miss at least another two matches due to his international commitments.

Inter Miami's chances of making the postseason are slim, but they are now six points behind D.C. United, who occupy ninth in the Eastern Conference.

D.C. United would travel to CF Montreal as it stands in the Wild Card fixture in the Eastern Conference.

Due to Messi's arrival, Inter Miami are now +275 to reach the MLS Cup final later this season.

Intense few weeks on the cards for several teams

While FC Cincinnati have dominated the Eastern Conference so far, St. Louis City are seven points clear in the Western Conference, and they could play the winner of the San Jose Earthquakes or FC Dallas.

Austin FC, Portland Timbers and Sporting KC are hot on their heels, while Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles FC, Real Salt Lake, Houston Dynamo, Vancouver Whitecaps and Minnesota United are the other teams making the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Seattle would host Minnesota, LAFC would welcome Vancouver to town, while Houston are due to travel to Salt Lake.

In the Eastern Conference, seventh-placed Nashville are due to travel to New England if things stay the same, while Orlando City will welcome Atlanta United to the Exploria Stadium.

Philadelphia Union occupy fourth spot, so they would host Columbus Crew, but they have a game in hand over their rivals, so they could improve on their current standing.

Orlando are as big as +1400 to win the MLS Cup, while Columbus Crew are available at the same price.

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